The Flaw in the Law(4) – The Savior Enters the Picture

(continued from The Flaw in the Law(3) – God Enters the Picture)

The Ultimate Flaw in the Law

No matter how noble a Law may sound, even if it is called a “Golden Rule,” although it may bring some improvement within our various relationships, ultimately any Law will condemn.  It is not only that we may choose to not react to someone “as unto the Lord”; it is not only that we too often fail in doing a good job of reflecting the Image of God; it is not only that we do not make use of the love already poured into our hearts, it is that no matter how hard we try – or do not try –, the condemnation just accumulates day after day.  Having Jesus as a great Teacher and Model really does not excite us, since here then is yet another Law to show us up and subtly beat us down further.  We are already overwhelmed by what is required.

The worst of it all is that much too often we do not follow the Golden Rule because we simply don’t want to.  Sometimes it is because we are not in the mood, and sometimes it is because we refuse to, especially toward “some people.”  We do not want to accept the love which God says is already in our hearts.

Yet, at the same time, it is Law: we are “without excuse” whenever we are called to act out this love poured into our hearts.

What can be strange is that even though this is the rebellion of our nature, often we become bitter toward God.  After all, we really do not need nor want another Law to show us just how much we have disappointed our grand vision of our own “goodness,” much less knowing that we have sabotaged any ”enthusiastic approval” which we expect that God ought to have of us.

The “flaw” in the Law is basically that as wonderful as it may be, all we end up with is an ideal that keeps dwindling farther and farther in the distance.  The Law has no real power to bring us closer to that ideal, so that although

The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good … [yet] the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me, for sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me.   [Romans 7:12,10-11]

If this desperate state in which we find ourselves is to be overcome, then we need Jesus to be our Savior.

Real, Historical, Tangible

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you …   [I John 1:1-3a]

There cannot be a mythological, nor a theoretical, nor a philosophical, nor an imagined, nor a symbolic solution to the condemnation of the Law.  It cannot be merely ignored away.  There has to be something concrete; an actual historical Person of a specific time and place to guarantee God’s answer.

This is what John is emphasizing: Jesus is tangible, real – He could be actually touched.  He has walked among fellow humans; He has actual nailholes in his hands and feet, and a spear wound in his side.  And to the utter astonishment of His disciples, He rose from the dead with powerful physical reality: again to be touched, and concrete enough to eat something.  This transformed fearful disciples into willing-to-die-for-Him apostles.  The death and the resurrection became the pivot of their message in their sermons and letters – it was to them the event that changed what might be merely a theological philosophy into a power to save.

God’s Version of the Golden Rule in Action

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. …
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. …
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.   [Romans 5:6-10]

God practiced His version of the Golden Rule: even “while we were yet enemies” [Romans 5:10], He Himself stepped foot on this earth – for you and me!  “Christ died for the ungodly” [Romans 5:6] – He Himself suffered in order to rescue you and me!  Jesus doesn’t just help His enemies – He dies for them (us) “so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one” [Hebrews 2:9] – He practiced what He preached.  He takes upon Himself the burden of the Law, its condemnation, its guilt, its punishment which would crush any one of us:

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. …Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by His stripes we are healed.   [Isaiah 53:3-5]

And now, just as the Good Samaritan had, Jesus nurses us “through the night.”  In Baptism, “We were buried therefore with him … into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”  [Romans 6:4] – we begin to experience the restoration to Life (and the gift of eternal Life) that Jesus now brings to us.

New Life and God’s Resolved Memory

As He told Nicodemus in John 3, we are born again of water and the Spirit: we are literally “… a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” [II Corinthians 5:17]:

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins. …  Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?  [Isaiah 43:25,18-19]

Because of what Jesus has done, we are free – free from the burden and habit of past sins.  Being a newborn within God’s forgiveness and His resolved memory (“their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” [Hebrews 8:12]), we can literally start new.  Some religions have the idea of reincarnation as a vague hope where people can try again.  Unfortunately that is more of a curse than a blessing because they would still be saddled with the past – wrong done in previous lifetimes have to be made up, and we know of nobody even today who lives perfectly (of course, excepting Jesus) so that they could start the next round with a clean slate.
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Not so with God’s new birth within His forgiveness!  This is a true “start over again, fresh and new.”  It is even immediate.  And it is constant: every time we approach the Lord in repentance, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”  [I John 1:9].  Although we still have to straighten things out with the people we have wronged, still we have an incredible freedom to try again from a base which is “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [we] might be holy and without blemish” [Ephesians 5:27].  With St Paul, we also can confidently say “… but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal … of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:13-14].

The Renewed Mind and the Prophecy of the Law

Not only free from the burden of past sin, we also are free from its habit.  We are not compelled to be the same person we were yesterday.  Today we can decide to be different, to do things differently.  We are not locked in to the habits that have so often ruled our lives, rather now we can rule them.  Sometimes the people around us try to pull us back into what we were, but the Holy Spirit is giving us a wonderful new gift:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.   [Romans 12:2]

Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, a different mind is developing, there are changes made: changes of perspective, changes of attitude, changes of values/focus, changes of goals.  We begin to see things differently, we approach them differently, we have a brand new set of values and goals that are now based within the heart of God.

What happens is that the Golden Rule and other such laws no longer are things that condemn and bring judgment upon us, but rather in the hands of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they now become prophecies!  No longer are these laws “Thou shalt” in a negative force, but rather it is the promise, the prophecy, “You shall!”  As the Good Samaritan nurses us “through the night,” in His healing, in the renewing of our minds, we find ourselves moving closer and closer to being what God has commanded – now creatively commanded – in His Law.

The Practice Arena – The Fellowship of the Saints

Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Sometimes what is overlooked is that Jesus is the One Who gives us the Church, and that one of His reasons is that it is to be the safe “practice arena” for His People as they discover and experience their “renewed minds.”  When Jesus says, “In as much as you did it to one to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me” [Matthew 25:40] – “My brothers” – well, here they are!

He reminds us that “where two or three are gathered in My Name” [Matthew 18:20] He is in their midst.  He Himself comes “among you as the One Who serves” [Luke 22:27], and it is here where He says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14].  This is the place to begin the newness of Life that is being given to us.

It is to be a safe place, because we are among fellow sinners and the forgiveness of God: “…we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” [I John 1:7].  These are two things of which we tend to forget, but if we are going to learn the freedom and the joy of the new birth, and of the new Life, these two elements in our fellowship must constantly be held before us.

However, we are not merely left to our own devices: “that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”  [I John 1:3b], and Paul adds “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”  [II Corinthians 13:14].  The Church is marked by more than the fellowship of the Saints, it is also the fellowship of God Himself in His Trinity – this is the environment with which He surrounds us as we train, as He transforms our minds, perspectives, attitudes, values/focus, and goals.

“And So I Press On”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus  [Philippians 3:14]

The Golden Rule, despite how it has been changed when Jesus says, “you have done it unto Me”; despite how it has been changed in “the Image of God” (where it is how God would treat my neighbor), rather than condemnation, now points us to Jesus’ forgiveness, the Holy Spirit’s new birth and the Father’s newness of Life, all which give us hope and freedom.  More and more we are being equipped by the Holy Spirit:

… according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior    [Titus 3:5-6]

… you have received the Spirit of Sonship: when we cry, “Abba! Father!“, it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ… [Romans 8:15-17]

hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.  [Romans 5:5]

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control – against such there is no law.  [Galatians 5:22-23]

Indeed, “for whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith”  [I John 5:4].  The result of this experience through our “night of convalescence” is

that He would grant you, according to the riches of His Glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width, length, depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.    [Ephesians 3:16-19]

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